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Food security, climate change… & potatoes

The CONNECTED team joined the Bristol Collegiate Research Society (BCRS) Symposium last week to discuss ‘Sustainable Food Systems in the Face of Global Human-Made Catastrophes’, the catastrophes ranging from climate change to pandemics.

First up was CONNECTED Director Professor Gary Foster, who gave a talk drawing comparisons between the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the Irish potato famine in 1845. This nineteenth-century disaster – caused by a plant disease – led to a million deaths in Ireland.

One of the roles we have as CONNECTED members is to keep raising awareness of the importance of plant viruses, because far more attention is paid to human pathogens. People are “plant blind”, and plant diseases can be catastrophic.

Gary also shared this astonishing quote from Megan Clark, CEO of Australia’s National Science Agency CSIRO:

“In the next 50 years we will need to produce as much food as has been consumed over the whole of human history.”

Focus on climate change

Later in the day it was the turn of CONNECTED Network Manager Dr Nina Ockendon-Powell to present, and her talk was all about how climate change can affect nutrition.

Changes to weather patterns alter the movements of insects that spread plant viruses, affecting yields of nutritious crops. So how does this affect nutrition worldwide? Nina shared details of some of the key nutrients that we end up missing when we lose yields of crops such as groundnut, cowpea and chickpea.

There were so many interesting talks throughout the day, including one from Dr Pete Falloon from the UK Met Office, in which he showed us a new Climate-Pest Risk Tool currently being used in the UK. This interactive web tool allows for visualising and outputting plant pest or pathogen risk maps.

This symposium was hosted by the Bristol Veterinary School (Faculty of Health Sciences), on behalf of the Bristol Collegiate Research Society